News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

March 23, 2013

RONN MOTT: Valley history still being written

I really enjoyed Mike McCormick’s article in last Sunday’s Tribune-Star about the French involvement in the Wabash Valley. It was a well-researched, well-written piece about the history of this area. This area has a plethora of historical facts which could fill more than one book.  

One historical aspect that speaks not only for the Wabash Valley, but anywhere the French trappers went, is they got along with the Indians and they wooed and married many Indian women. (Sacagawea had a French husband.) They had the ability to get along with the natives, with whom they lived, ate the same food, drank the same drinks and, in general, treated them almost as equals.

The English, also trying to woo the affection of the native people, treated them like wogs, a word that would come to use in later times by the English. They mostly thought of them as barbarians. It did not sit well with the indigenous people. The only people they hated more than the British were those that would later be known as Americans. The Americans, when they began to make their move westward, were stealing their land and repopulating it.

The Indians and the French committed genocide, trying to get tribes friendly to them more control of the area and the tribes not friendly to them wiped out. Maybe the worst example of this was the French and the Illinois Indians wiping out a tribe we knew as the Fox. The Fox were moving south through Wisconsin and Illinois trying to reach an area where their allies, the Iroquois, could help them in their fight against the French. Just west of what is now Normal, Ill., the French and Illinois Indians surrounded the travelling Fox on a small creek bed and pretty much destroyed the entire tribe.

So much for the idea that the Indians were more honorable than the rest of us.

There’s another story that Mike McCormick knows about and it says that De Soto, Spanish explorer, got as far north on the Wabash, perhaps as far as Mecca or Montezuma, or where they are today … perhaps a story for later. There is not much historical fact to back this up from a European point of view.

Someone said you’ll never get to be a civilization worthy of note if you throw away your heritage faster than it can become such. Historically, we seem to remember certain things well and almost nothing of other things. I actually could write a book on this. Others, however, I’m sure will do a better job.

One thing that stood out in Mike’s article was how this town got its name. On a French map, Terre Haute, an area of high ground would be the dividing point between government control in Quebec, and government control from Louisiana, both of course were French colonies.     

Imagine floating down the Wabash on crystal clear water with only the sound of birds, and an absolute golden future lying ahead for everything you saw. Like most explorers, the good thoughts would be tempered by heated battles of control. I hope it’s a blessing that we won, but the history of us is just a few years past 200. As a great civilization, we have many years ahead of us. I hope we make it.                                           

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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